Remembering Guy L’Americain
inTheir Musicon March 24, 2017
Noted French talent scout and aficionado of American roots music, Guy “L’Americain” Fay, passed away Tuesday, December 22, in Hospital Henri Mondor in Creteil, a southeast suburb of Paris, of complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 61 years old.
Having worked in various occupations over the years wherein he acquired an exhaustive and encyclopedic knowledge of the blues, he put this intelligence to good use as he scoured the United States on countless occasions seeking to find that hidden gem of a blues act which he could then introduce to the French public via the small but tasty DixieFrog label. To this end, his influence in keeping the blues alive both here and abroad can never be underestimated because, in fact, through his intercession, he can take credit for launching the careers of more than just a handful of these select individuals.
Invariably attired in baseball caps emblazoned with the POW/MIA acronyms, band t-shirts, Levi jeans, and “shit kicker” cowboy boots, he was the antithesis of the stereotypical stylish French dresser, although, as a non-conformist, he shared similarities with their concept of a true Bohemian. No, you would never catch Guy Fay in a beret, scarf, silk shirt or in any such ensemble which would betray his Gallic origins. And it was because he loved all things American (hence his sobriquet)—Harley Davidson motorcycles, Jack Daniel’s whiskey, the Wild West, Native American customs, and especially all forms of indigenous music—that he traveled here yearly as if to purge himself of the French culture, which he thoroughly disdained. “I have to come to the states to escape Star Academy [the French version of American Idol] and the incessant, ‘zig zig’ music beat of the night clubs. I know what hell would be like for me—having to spend eternity listening to Cerrone [the French drummer and disco producer],” he confessed. It was if it were incumbent upon him—a moral imperative on his part to educate his fellow countrymen as to the musical treasure of which heretofore they had been deprived. So, this was the idealistic goal that motivated this blues crusader to beat the bushes here in hopes of discovering that yet unsigned genius who then would truly “enlighten” the poor, uninformed denizens of the City of Light.
And in venturing far and wide across the country, he was both relentless and fearless in his pursuit, his “sacred mission,” to hear the real, genuine, music. Often while on these hunting expeditions, Mr. Fay would go where angels feared to tread, like invading drug infested ghettoes, infiltrating notorious Hell’s Angels club houses or trespassing upon tribal lands. To gain access, he got by on the strength of his personality–bravado, guile, but mostly charm. Whatever it was, he was not only ultimately accepted but also always welcomed back, but not by the rental car companies, positively stunned by the odometer readings after each of his sojourns in the states. Obviously, clients such as Mr. Fay forced such companies to rethink their “unlimited mileage” policy.
But these ceaseless travels would have served no purpose if he were not possessed of an uncanny nose for talent. Locally, for example, Mr. Fay championed, and rightly so, at least three stellar, but unheralded, guitar players—Larry Dennis, Kelly Bell, and Tino Gonzales. After making impassioned overtures to contract the trio, he had to be content to land for DixieFrog only the latter, as Dennis had no finished product other than a demo and Bell instead chose to stay a big fish in the small pond of Baltimore, where he remains to this day. But during his many peregrinations here because of his weakness for the open air, biker bar, Daniel’s on Rt. 1 in Elkridge, he unearthed more than just a few nuggets, those struggling, provincial artists in need of that certain break.
Guy Fay was born in Poland on November 23, 1955, and claimed to have gypsy blood on his father’s side (which might have explained his latent wanderlust). His father, who later became an artisanal glass blower, in order to escape a hardscrabble existence in this Second World, Soviet dominated country, moved himself, his Danish born wife and only child, a son, to France in 1959, where the family settled in Sucy-en-Brie, a far southeast suburb of Paris. Thereafter, the boy enjoyed a rather uneventful childhood. Nonetheless, in his teens in the late sixties, Guy Fay became hooked on the blues after listening to two albums in his uncle’s collection—those of Robert Johnson and Hank Williams. Another inspirational figure in his formative years became Jimi Hendrix, whom he viewed on French television. In fact, so much was he taken with American blues that he decided to concentrate upon learning English, a feat he accomplished before graduating from high school in 1972. Five years later, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from La Varenne (university) in a suburb of Paris. During his stay at the latter institution, he first got his feet wet in the music industry while working for U.S. Sound International, which exchanged LPs between the two countries via the telephone. And it was during this time frame that he became a lead singer for a French heavy metal band along the lines of Motorhead. But this proved to be a short-lived pastime.
By the late 70s, he was hired by Dave Music, a record boutique in downtown Paris situated on the fashionable Rue du Faubourg du Temple, quite an advantageous location, since it was just adjacent to GIBUS, the Parisian equivalent of Manhattan’s famed CBGB club. This store, specializing in imported vinyl cutout albums of Southern rock—Marshall Tucker, Lynyrd Skynryd, Wet Willie, the Allman Brothers Band, etc—was a dream job for Mr. Fay in that he could both partake of these, as well as order his own favorites like John Hammond, the Nighthawks, and artists on the Adelphi label. To say the least, his stay of several years really served to broaden his understanding of American roots music. Nonetheless, after a vacation of six months in the states wherein he first explored the West, he discovered that Dave Music, which had changed hands in his absence, was on the verge of going belly up. The year was 1980.
At twenty five and already so experienced in the record field, Guy Fay didn’t find it difficult to resume employment as an adviser in a similar venture, Copa Music, still operated by the Greek-born Sebastian Kindinis in the sprawling flea market (le marche aux puces) at Porte de Clingnancourt (the terminus of Metro Line #4) in the near Paris suburb of St Ouen. Here Mr. Fay toiled three days a week—every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday for seven years, a term punctuated by several visits to the states. And, as usual, he became quite an invaluable asset to the enterprise, helping to fulfill all the various musical wants of the usual swarm of weekend customers.
But despite being immersed in the environment he held so dear, he grew tired of the grind and moved to Montreal, Canada, in 1987 where he demonstrated, again, his business acumen by setting up an automobile export business which shipped classic American cars (another passion of his) to France. Nonetheless, this fad ran its course after several years and by the early 90’s he was back in Paris.
Seamlessly taking up where he had left off, Mr. Fay began working for yet another, well established music firm, Gibert Joseph, a chain of stores throughout France, specializing in second-hand LPs and books. At first assigned to the branch in Poitiers, a town in south central France, he, again, proved himself indispensable; so much so, that the management requested that he oversee the importation of new CDs for retail sales at its Paris outlet at the bustling intersection of Blvd Saint Michel and Blvd Saint Germain in the trendy and very touristic Latin Quarter. Although he had previously met Philippe Langlois, the head of DixieFrog records, at a blues concert, Guy, through his association with Gibert Joseph, was able to first forge a relationship with the producer.
By 1993, Mr. Fay’s reputation as a musical scholar was such that he was regularly appearing on a radio blues show emceed by the legendary DJ, Dom Kiris, and during a six-month span, he would talk blues, host interviews, and occasionally present live entertainment over the airwaves, such as acoustic jams proffered as promotion by any touring blues/rock luminary. Eventually, the framework of this program served as the basis of the long running (1994-1998) Chesterfield live show over Oui Radio (FM 102.3), after which the station changed its format.
If nothing else, these broadcast stints helped establish his renown as the “man in the know” for blues music in France. I had the luck of making the acquaintance of Alain Duquesnes, head barman at the elegant and very pricey George V hotel in Paris, who at the first opportunity introduced me to this irrepressible fan of roots and rock music. And I soon discovered just how significant a person he was.
In 1995, my companion, Carol, and I wanted to attend a French blues festival in Bagnols Sur Ceze in Provence which featured headliners such as Otis Rush, Bo Diddley, and Popa Chubby. After spotting me in the audience, Mr. Fay invited us into the VIP tent wherein we were wined and dined, surrounded by members of the French press corps, local vintners promoting their wines, and celebrities like actor, Richard Bohringer, who was narrating the live concert over radio Europe 2 which reached a huge national audience. And here was Mr. Fay, as usual, in the middle of all this hubbub, schmoozing and hobnobbing with the rich and famous. Whereas concerts of this scope proliferate throughout the United States and are often greeted by the indifference of jaded fans, who can pick and choose their venues, in France (and in Europe in general), such musical expositions are treated as very remarkable and grand events and never taken for granted.
On yet another occasion in June, 2001, we were in Paris and wanted to witness a huge spectacle, Les Masters de la Guitar, held at the venerable, spacious civic auditorium, Palais des Congres (Porte de Maillot), with B.B. King, Louisiana Red, Popa Chubby, and Karim Albert Kook on that night’s slate. When Mr. Fay was apprised of our intentions, he managed to procure for us backstage passes wherein we not only met the artists but also all the distinguished heads of French blues labels, like Philippe Langlois, or publications like Jacques Perin of the highly regarded, long running Soulbag magazine. It was just another magical evening courtesy of Mr. Fay, whose open sesame to such extravaganzas was simply “Come on. You’re with me.” That’s all it took. So respected he quickly became in the small but loyal French blues community.
Having labored for Gibert Joseph for nearly four years, Mr. Fay again reunited in 1996 with Sebastian Kindinis at Copa music at the flea market at Porte de Clingnancourt which was the same year he began scouting in earnest for Philippe Langlois at DixieFrog, whose headquarters at that juncture was in the town of Clisson not far from Nantes. Generally speaking, DixieFrog of that era specialized in licensing the recent CDs of U.S. blues notables and had an agreement to distribute at its discretion Blind Pig artists, such as Tommy Castro, Deborah Coleman, Jimmy Thackery, Magic Slim & the Teardrops, Big Bill Morganfield, Coco Montoya, Joanna Connor, etc. Although Langlois’ imprint at that point included recognizable names like Duke Robillard, Kenny Neal, Amos Garrett, and Omar and the Howlers, its real cachet was the inclusion on its roster of hitherto ignored but prodigious guitar stylists and singers. And this was where Guy Fay proved so handy to this logo. Taking advantage of a liberal leave policy at the flea market, he, equipped with a modest expense account, traveled frequently to the states in hopes of finding such figures that might tickle the fancy of the fickle French whose whims seemingly changed daily. Upon his return to France, his modus operandi was to submit to Langlois for his perusal perhaps a hundred albums of potential candidates for the label of which maybe five would ultimately be considered as suitable for release. Invariably, Langlois would also depend quite a bit upon his scout’s input as far as track selection, sequencing, mixing, etc. were concerned and each CD issued would bear Mr. Fay’s stamp of approval.
Perhaps the vehicle which provided the greatest exposure for these discoveries was the opening of the now sadly missed Tex-Mex, Chesterfield Café (sponsored by the cigarette company), at 124 Rue La Boetie, just a stone’s throw from the prime tourist promenade of the Champs Elysees. In short, this wildly popular club, packed to the gills each night, proved the best of both worlds for DixieFrog. Mr. Fay was not only the de facto manager of this no cover urban roadhouse but also, as consultant, was involved in booking the acts, many of whom were DixieFrog artists, who would then play two weeks at a stretch. Nearly all were crowd pleasing guitar wizards like Van Wilks, David Gogo, Gashouse Dave (David Randall Shorey), Popa Chubby (Ted Horowitz), and the aforementioned Lancaster, PA-based Tino Gonzales—just to name a few. Moreover, Guy Fay was often the emcee of this aforementioned live show and thus could plug the DixieFrog product over the airwaves. If such artists weren’t household names in France when they first arrived, they became so at their departure. But there were some French players of significance in the mix as well, like the great Algerian born guitarist, Karim Albert Kook (Berkouk), with whom Mr. Fay, a lifelong friend, collaborated on DixieFrog projects like Je Roule Vers Toi (DFGCD 8504) in 2000 and Barbes City Limit Blues (DFGCD 8542) in 2002, the latter which includes two of Mr. Fay’s compositions.
Into the new millennium, about the time of the Chesterfield Café’s demise, Mr. Fay, citing philosophical differences with Mr. Kindinis, decided again to leave Copa music. Remaining at the flea market of Clingnancourt, he became manager of a series of retail outlets specializing in military surplus clothing, a position which he held up to relatively recently. But none of these weekend employments impeded him from voyaging from time to time, normally a month at a stretch, to the states as scout for DixieFrog records, whose headquarters now were in the small town of Retheuil, well north of Paris.
Always fascinated with Native American culture, Mr. Fay sought to verify a link between the music of the Indians with that of the Afro-Americans. As downtrodden ethnic minorities, they were forced to work the fields together and therefore there was much intermingling among them. So it was not a far-fetched notion at all to suppose that their music underwent this cross pollination as well. To this end, after having received information about a certain female blues singer and guitarist, Pura Fe (of the Tuscarora Nation of Lumberton, NC), who freely acknowledged this Red-Black connection, Mr. Fay journeyed to Hillsborough, NC, to meet her producer, Tim Duffy. It would prove to be a fateful (as well as fruitful) encounter.
Since 1994, Tim Duffy, along with wife, Denise, head a non-profit, charitable organization, Music Maker Relief Foundation, dedicated to offering all means of support to destitute or indigent blues players. Moreover, Duffy had a first-rate studio wherein he could record for posterity many of these very obscure artists. Upon his arrival in 2004, Mr. Fay realized he had stumbled upon a treasure trove of raw, authentic, and undiluted blues testimonies. And as far as preserving these indigenous genres of music was concerned, he found a kindred spirit in Tim Duffy. And thus the relationship (still ongoing) of Music Maker and DixieFrog was born.
“I can’t say enough about the influence Guy had in the ultimate success of these figures. You can call him a springboard or catalyst or whatever, but he put them and my label on the map,” said Duffy in an interview. The very next year came the French imprint’s first release, a double CD of the best of what the engineer had in the can—DixieFrog Presents Music Maker Relief Foundation: The Last & Lost Blues Survivors (DFGCD 8597). The title was chosen by Mr. Fay and it sold 16,000 units in France, modest by U.S. standards, but anywhere overseas quite an extraordinary number. “He poured his heart and soul into this project and must have spent 50 hours determining which tracks of the lot to select,” added Duffy, who would go on to provide material for well over a dozen DixieFrog undertakings, including four by Pura Fe, herself. And it wasn’t long before Duffy was arranging concert tours to France (and other far flung outposts) for some of the charter members of this label collaboration—Neal Pattman, Cootie Stark, George Higgs, Cool John Ferguson, Little Pink Anderson, Captain Luke, Essie Mae Brooks, John Dee Holeman, as well as Pura Fe. Again, these former “unknowns,” greeted by wildly enthusiastic audiences in France, were finally receiving their due, being thrust into the spotlight thanks to the diligence of Mr. Guy Fay.
Over the years, Mr. Fay and Tim Duffy both cemented and reinforced their bond with a series of major undertakings. Next in 2006 came Drink House to Church House, Vol. I (DFCG 8613), which featured artists who would typically perform in the private neighborhood watering holes (which served moonshine) unique to North Carolina, such as Macavine Hayes and Alabama Slim (Milton Frazier), both of whom would go on to tour in France. By 2007, another regular drink house entertainer was granted his first solo effort: Captain Luke: “Old Black Buck” (DFGCD 8631). Backed by guitarist Cool John Ferguson, Captain Luke (born Luther Mayer), blessed with a rich bass-baritone voice, also thereafter became a fixture on subsequent Music Maker junkets. In addition in 2007 appeared the first French issued CD of Duffy’s contracted Durham-based jug/string band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops: Heritage (DFGCD 8640), with members Rhiannon Giddens, Justin Robinson, and Don Flemons. At that juncture in their collective careers, they’d be the first to admit that they were “small potatoes,” playing in a local club or at a PTA sponsored affair in Chapel Hill, NC, the latter venue wherein they were captured on video by Mr. Fay (a clip of which is included in the album, as well as one accompanying the drink house endeavor). Since this particular project, the band has gone on to fame and glory, not only signing with Nonesuch/Elektra records but also earning a Grammy in 2011 in the category of Best Traditional Folk Album. And the now celebrated trio can in no small measure credit its newfound notoriety to the faith and perseverance of Fay, Duffy, and Langlois of DixieFrog.
And in this flurry of 2006-7 releases, was yet another noted achievement, Slavery, Prison, Women, God and…Whiskey (DFGCD 8636), an extensive compilation which introduced more unfamiliar Music Maker artists such as Adolphus Bell, Albert Smith, Drink Small, Big Boy Henry, John Lee Zeigler, Carl Hodges, Rufus McKenzie, and Jahue Rorie, to European blues fans, as well as the initial album of Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Don’t Mess With Miss Watkins (DFGCD 8633). This latter production is accompanied by a video shot by Mr. Fay at Paris’ New Morning, a still extant, world music club at 7-9 Rue des Petites Ecuries in the 10th Arrondissement and it shows the dynamic Ms. Watkins being backed onstage by other Music Maker stalwarts—second guitarist, Albert White, and drummer Ardie Dean. And the next year, 2008, was marked by the inaugural release of Little Pink Anderson: Sittin’ Here Singing the Blues (DFGCD 8564). Guitarist Anderson was the son of legendary bluesman Pink Anderson, whose forename along with that of Floyd Council, another well-known practitioner of Piedmont blues, became the impetus for Syd Barrett’s first incarnation of Pink Floyd in 1967. And it was Guy Fay who helped oversee this 17 track affair, although the accompanying video was executed by expert DixieFrog film editor, Jean-Pierre Bruneau.
By 2009 Mr. Fay became deeply involved in a project near and dear to Mr. Duffy, a tribute not only to Guitar Gabriel but also a video in homage to nearly all the artists who were up to that point beneficiaries of Music Maker’s munificence, including such figures not already mentioned like Elder James Goins, Mother Marie Goins, Bishop Dready Manning, Haskell Thompson, and Eddie Tigner. The selection of the now late Guitar Gabriel (born Robert Lewis Jones and aka Nyles Jones) was purposeful in that he was the veritable raison d’etre for this organization. After finally locating the blues man in Winston-Salem, NC, in 1990, Duffy, in the liner notes, goes on to explain, “This was the beginning of a journey that has lasted 19 years. Guitar Gabriel and musicians he introduced to me inspired my wife and I to launch Music Maker Relief Foundation.” For Baltimoreans with long memories, this well-travelled player actually lived in the Congress Hotel on Franklin St. in the late 70s and performed nightly for a spell in the downstairs Marble Bar. The audio CD devoted to this illustrious guitarist is entitled Guitar Gabriel: The Beginning of the Music Maker Story (DFG CD 8677-1); whereas the DVD, a film directed by Chris Johnstone, is Toot Blues: The Story of the Music Maker Relief Foundation (DFG CD 8677-2). As perhaps a testament to its importance, this latter video documentary was underwritten by some philanthropic heavy hitters such as Martin Scorsese, Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft), and the Blues Music Foundation. And this handsome two disk package was issued in France, again bearing the imprimatur of Mr. Fay.
Aside from acting as a liaison between the Music Maker and DixieFrog labels of this period—he would go on to approve of not only the future offerings of Pura Fe but also that of an artist that lately has become the bread and butter of Tim Duffy, the scintillating pianist and showman, Ironing Board Sam (Moore)—Mr. Fay began exploring roles such as cinematographer and documentarian. And it was Langlois and another right-hand man, the aforementioned Jean-Pierre Bruneau, who suggested that, since Mr. Fay travelled so extensively, he trace, a la cinema verite, all the personages and landscapes encountered along the way in the hope of eventually including such footage to complement future DixieFrog music releases. With this outcome in mind, the two provided him with an HDV camera and more than just a few pointers about how to use it properly. And the end result far exceeded their expectations, culminating in the magnificent, 3 CD Indian Rezervation Blues and More (DFGCD 8660), which Mr. Fay always considered as his magnum opus. In this documentary, actually a road movie, he presented a visual record “of the ancestral Tuscarora long houses of the pine forests of North Carolina; the Six Nations reserve in Ontario, as well as the megalopolises of Seattle, Vancouver, and Toronto, where urban Indians are now living,” he said in the liner notes. Whereas each CD is accompanied by a rather brief clip, the whole critically acclaimed production, released in 2009 and shown in various film festivals abroad, can be viewed on the website Dailymotion. And Mr. Fay by focusing upon such Native American musicians as Keith Secola, Derek Miller, Slidin’ Clyde Roulette, Murray Porter, Paul Ortega, Pura Fe, Jacques (Nadjiwon) and the Shakey Boys, and Sandy Scofield, just to name a few, proposes a very compelling argument in support of this aforementioned Red-Black connection. But if nothing else, he, through this two year labor of love, refutes all the stereotypes, the “diehard clichés” (to use his expression), attributed to the “Amerindians” and long perpetuated by the Hollywood film industry.
Mr. Fay always ascribed to the philosophy that he, in order to really capture the blues, had to live what he considered the life of a bluesman, whether it be downing copious amounts of home brewed corn liquor in drink houses or exchanging shots of Jagermeister in biker bars. And this lifestyle finally caught up with him. When I described these excesses to my friends in Paris, they all employed the same expression—“Il a brule la chandelle a deux bouts”—he burned the candle at both ends, as many have. But few have left so much behind as a legacy. No, he didn’t change the musical tastes of the average Frenchman. But what he did do, at least through these recordings, was to offer them an alternative, another choice. Let’s just say that he made more than just a few foreign “converts” along the way advocating the gospel of the blues. And, then again, how many careers of scuffling musicians did he salvage or resurrect? He indeed made a difference.
It was typical of Mr. Fay to request that there be no type of funeral service and that he be cremated. In addition, he demanded that any subsequent memorial or tribute be in the form of a party—one for his friends in France and one for those in the United States. Finally, he asked that his ashes be spread somewhere in America. And to this end, and quite fittingly, Tim Duffy will mix his remains with Music Maker musicians who have passed on. “We’ll spread some here in Hillsborough with those of Macavine Hayes and Pernell King and then go on over to Winston-Salem to add his to those of Captain Luke, Guitar Gabriel, and Willa Mae Buckner. It’s only right that he be with all the artists that he’s helped so much over the years,” said Mr. Duffy.
———Larry Benicewicz, Baltimore Blues Society